Rucka’s run on the title has focused on the descent of Rachel Cole-Alves from former marine and bride-to-be to willing participant in the title character’s neverending war on crime. Though it looked as if she was going to reconsider her current path in life at the end of the previous volume, she realizes that the people who killed everyone she loved are still out there and they have to pay for their crime. This leads to a couple encounters with the criminal group known as The Exchange and as we see Cole-Alves in action, it quickly becomes clear that in spite of all of her skill, she doesn’t have the cold, ruthless precision that is necessary to be The Punisher.
Such precision is spotlighted in the opening story in this collection as Frank Castle’s other, unwilling, partner on the police force finally owns up to his superiors about his connection to the vigilante. Detective Bolt’s relationship with the vigilante has been one of the more interesting parts of Rucka’s run and the ramifications of his coming clean aren’t what you’d expect. Though this is ostensibly a story about the title character stopping a zombie outbreak in Times Square with clockwork efficiency, best seen in how he handles the supervillain in charge of the attack, its the debriefing scenes between Bolt and Internal Affairs that carry the most weight. I didn’t expect to see them do what they did to him, but it looks like living with what he has done will be worse than any punishment they could have dished out.
As noted above, the rest of the volume focuses on the Punisher/Cole-Alves relationship and the longer it goes on, the more it looks like the former is only keeping the latter around to get it out of her system. Rucka has a good handle on the character and not only is the his ultracompetence at what he does in line with how I like to see him portrayed, it also feeds into the story as well. In order to do what he does, you can’t have any attachment to the outside world as well of a level of skill that borders on the, well... superhuman.
It almost seems as if Rucka is teasing a somewhat meta take on The Punisher as he remains one-dimensional in his drive and actions while Cole-Alves has been drawn with more depth as she transforms from grieving widow to vigilante. Or at least she tries to and we see the messy consequences of that on the page. That holds true of all of Rucka’s cast from Bolt, to his straight-arrow partner Ozzie, and Rachel’s reporter friend Norah who only wants to do right by her. They all feel like real people while Frank remains fully in the world of superheroes with his unbelievable combat prowess. That Cole-Alves failed to be like The Punisher ultimately doesn’t come off as a slight on her character, she’s a real person trying to hold herself up to some kind of fictional ideal. In fact, if Rucka had suddenly revealed at the end of the volume that The Punisher had only existed in her mind, I would’ve been inclined to believe it. Of course it wouldn’t have made any sense, but I could totally see the story going in that direction.
Though Cole-Alves’ story is done, Frank Castle’s is not. Apparently he’ll be wading even further into the Marvel Universe with Rucka’s final story, “Enter The War Zone.” Originally envisioned as a stand-alone miniseries to boost sales, the writer wound up quitting the character after Castle was announced as a member of the Thunderbolts. Because, you know, he’s always played well with others. Anyway, it’ll be interesting to see how Rucka wraps things up with the main arc having concluded in this volume. My gut tells me to expect a decent read, but not an essential one.